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  • Dr. Clayborne Carson , Professor of History and Founding Director of the MLK Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, is a nationally-recognized expert on the life of MLK. Selected in 1985 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King to edit and publish the papers of her late husband, Dr. Carson has devoted his life to the study of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the movements King inspired. Under Carson’s direction, the King Papers Project has produced seven volumes of a definitive, comprehensive edition of King’s speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. Dr. Carson has also edited numerous other books based on King’s papers, including The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Ahead of MLK Day to be observed January 18, Dr. Carson provides insight and analysis of how the legacy of MLK continues to provide a model for addressing racial injustice today.


MODERATOR:  Okay, good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s on-the-record briefing on the Legacy of Martin Luther King.  My name is Jen McAndrew and I am today’s moderator.  First, I will introduce our briefer, and then I will give the ground rules. 

Today’s briefer is Dr. Clayborne Carson, an eminent historian and director of Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Research and Education Institute.  Dr. Carson is a nationally recognized expert on the life of Martin Luther King.  Selected in 1985 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King to edit and publish the papers of her late husband, Dr. Carson has devoted his life to the study of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement he inspired.  He has edited numerous books based on King’s papers, including The Autobiography of Martin Luther King.   

Ahead of Martin Luther King Day to be observed January 18th in 2021, Dr. Carson will provide insight and analysis of how the legacy of Martin Luther King continues to provide a model for addressing racial injustice today.  We appreciate Dr. Carson for giving his time today for this briefing. 

And now for the ground rules.  This briefing is on the record.  The views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State or U.S. Government are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.  Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views.  We will post the transcript of this briefing later today on our website,  If you publish a story as a result of this briefing, please share it with us. 

Professor Carson will give opening remarks, and then we will open it up for Q&A.  If you have a question, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand, or you can submit it in writing in the chat box.  If you have not already done so, please take the time now to rename your Zoom profile with your full name and the name of your media outlet.   

And with that, I will pass it over to Professor Carson.  Over to you. 

MR CARSON:  Well, I can’t think of a better time, a more appropriate time, than the last few months given the events of the last few months to talk about Martin Luther King and his legacy.  I’ve been thinking a lot about it as I’ve watched the election last fall and, of course, the recent events in Washington.  And I’m kind of reminded of Charles Dickens writing about the French Revolution when he said it’s the best of times and the worst of times, and I think that this would express Martin Luther King’s view of this because he lived through another very tumultuous times during the 1960s.   

And I think back on how he recognized that that time of momentous change was also a time of – that had, I think, uncertain consequences.  He could see that the passage of the Voting Rights Act which enfranchised millions of black citizens of the United States was also going to provoke a backlash.  And when he spoke in Selma after the march, Voting Rights March in 1965, he noted that the denial of the franchise had brought about the segregation era after the Civil War, another time of promise when the 15th Amendment was passed giving black people the right to vote but almost immediately followed by the rise of a new system of segregation, the Jim Crow system in the South.   

And in the 1960s, what King witnessed was that after the passage of the Voting Rights Act there was a white backlash, there was the “Southern strategy.”  Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King both understood that even as the nation was moving beyond segregation, there was going to be a strong reaction to that.  And indeed, that was the Southern strategy. 

And I would just point out that the 1964 election of Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater was the last election that a majority of white Americans voted for a Democrat.  It hasn’t happened since.   

So I would also point out that any period of rapid social change is going to produce a reaction, and I think that’s what culminated in this very eventful period of the last year.  What I would suggest is that all of the social movements of the last 50 or 60 years, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movements – all of these movements have been steps forward toward what Martin Luther King would call a more just and peaceful world, but they have also produced a reaction.   

And I think in the last year we’ve seen both that movement forward with Black Lives Matter protests of last spring and summer, perhaps the most important social activism since the 1960s in the United States, far – involving far more people.  I was at the March on Washington in 1963 and I was so amazed to see 200,000 people there.  But when I realized that young people last spring mobilized more than 10 times that many just within a few days, I realized that something important was happening.  And I think if I had understood King’s wisdom, I would have also cautioned myself and said, “You haven’t seen the reaction yet.” 

And I think in the last few months we’ve seen the reaction.  Yes, Joe Biden won the presidency, but it is also the case that Donald Trump received more votes than any Republican candidate in history.  And I think the events at the Capitol suggest that there is this angry reaction – not just about the election.  I don’t think that that explains what happened at the Capitol.  I think it’s a reaction to the rapid changes that have been going on with respect to all of these movements; that is, reaction of those who feel threatened at the same time other people feel hopeful and – about the changes that are occurring.   

So we do live through this time of now what I would say is a season of hope and a season of despair at the same time.  And so I just wanted to lay out that as a background of how I feel that Martin Luther King and his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  I’ve seen some movement toward community, especially in the world, but I’ve also seen the alternative, the chaos.  That’s what happened at the Capitol. 

So I think this is a hopeful time, but it’s also a time of great concern about what will – what the future will bring.  So with that open, I’d be eager to answer your questions, whatever they are. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Professor.  So we’ll now open it up to Q&A.  You have the option of either submitting questions in writing in the chat field, or you are able to use the participant field to raise your hand if you would like to be called on for a live question.   

This is a quiet bunch this morning.  Professor, I know there’s a lot of activities happening at Stanford on the actual holiday itself.  Maybe you could share a little bit more information about what you are doing to memorialize the legacy this year. 

MR CARSON:  Well, I invite everyone here to join us for a webinar film festival that will take place starting on the evening of the 15th and going through the King holiday on the 18th.  We will be – the film festival is human rights, civil rights films that we will be making available for free to anyone who wants to join the webinar anywhere in the world, and the webinar itself will allow us to basically open the King Papers Project and the King Institute to all who want to learn about his work.  We’ll be showing, for example, news conferences of Martin Luther King during his lifetime, a number of speeches by him.  So it’ll be an educational weekend, one I think everyone will benefit from seeing it, and it’s entirely free. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Okay, we do have a hand raised from Pearl Matibe, Open Parliament, Zimbabwe.  Pearl, we will unmute you if you’d like to ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  I don’t know if it’s so much a question, but I know that the Civil Rights Movement and the Soviet Union had a very close, interlinked relationship during that Cold War period.  Could you share a little bit about perhaps what influence or what help the Civil Rights Movement and maybe perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King received from the Soviet Union that maybe either changed perceptions about how African heritage is perceived or anything of that nature?  What positive things came out of that Soviet Cold War period and that relationship, that very close relationship between the Soviet Union and the Civil Rights Movement?  And is there any change now between the Russian Federation and the Civil Rights Movement?  Thank you. 

MR CARSON:  I don’t really accept the premise of the question.  I was an activist and somewhat of a leader in that struggle, and I know that Martin Luther King and other leaders were very sensitive and worried about even the appearance that in the Cold War the Soviet Union was helping the struggle.  And indeed, the involvement of even former communists in the movement was such a controversial and – aspect that it led to the FBI investigating Martin Luther King and being very hostile to him.  So I think if anything, that most elements in the civil rights movement wanted to avoid even the suggestion that they were on the communist side in the civil war. 

Having said that, I think that that fear of being smeared as communist inhibited the ability of leaders of the movement to put forward programs that could be labeled as socialist, and I think that that fear has persisted, that unlike most countries we do not have a socialized medical system in the United States.  We do not have many of the protections of workers that we have in many other countries.  And I think a large part of the reason for that is that fear that anything labeled socialist would weaken the movement.  I know that Martin Luther King was himself very concerned about that. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you for that.  I would like to now call on Alexis Buisson from La Croix, France.  We will now unmute you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Jen, for organizing this, and hello, Dr. Carson.  I had a question about Reverend Warnock and more generally about the religious left today in the U.S.  I was wondering what was your assessment of the strength of the religious left today in U.S. politics. 

MR CARSON:  I think it’s always been a strong element going back to the beginning of American history.  Not – they wouldn’t have called it the left then, they would have called it the kind of idealistic people, religious people, in, for example, the anti-slavery movement or the late 19th century.  Martin Luther King’s social gospel I think is – was representative of that.  So I think that it’s always been a strong element and it remains that.  I don’t think it’s an accident that Reverend Warnock, who I know well, is the pastor of King’s former church, and that this to me indicates that the church is one of the strongest institutions.   

And when I say “the black church,” I don’t mean every black church is on the side of the social gospel.  There are, as you may know, many black ministers who are on the more conservative side on many issues.  But I think Ebenezer Church, even under King’s father and under King’s grandfather, they were civil rights leaders.  They were presidents of the local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP.  So I think that Reverend Warnock represents that. 

And I think another thing about it is that – I mentioned the Southern strategy.  The Southern strategy was designed to and it succeeded in convincing tens of millions of white Americans who had always voted Democratic before that to move over to the Republican side.  That was the largest movement of voters in American history, and it was quite sudden.  People who had literally voted Democratic every election in their life suddenly became Republican, and that shaped – that has shaped American politics for a long time.  So the fact that Warnock won – that two Democrats won in Georgia, a southern state, I think suggests that maybe the Southern strategy has – its lifespan is coming to an end.   

That’s at least the hope that this – but I think I would have to say, again, that the majority of white Georgians voted for Trump.  So I wouldn’t – I have to caution myself against too much optimism about one election.  Just like after the election of Obama, there was many people who were saying that that represented the decline and demise of racism as a factor in American politics.  And all we have to say is wait eight years and then you’ll find out. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll take a couple more live questions, and then I see we have a few questions that have come in in the chat feature.  But for now, I’d like to call on David Smith from The Guardian.  We will now unmute you. 

QUESTION:  Unmute, yeah.  Hello.  David Smith of The Guardian here. 

MR CARSON:  How are you? 

QUESTION:  I’m writing an article at the moment about a play called One Night In Miami.  It’s just been turned into a film as well.  I don’t know if you’re aware of it, sir. 

MR CARSON:  I’m —  

QUESTION:  It’s about Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali and others. 

MR CARSON:  I have heard of it.  I have heard.   

QUESTION:  Yes.  I was going to ask you if you’re familiar with it, what you think of it.  But more generally, I wonder what do you think today is Malcolm X’s legacy and what would he make of America in 2020, everything from Obama to Trump to the Black Lives Matter protests to Joe Biden? 

MR CARSON:  It’s interesting.  I read – just over this last week, I re-read Martin Luther King’s last book, Where Do We Go from Here, and it has a chapter about black power.  And as you may realize, Martin Luther King was – used the book to attack the black power slogan, and he saw that as not really a positive direction.  But at the same time, he said that it is absolutely necessary that black people gain a sense of pride, gain a sense of their own power as a people, though he was somewhat ambivalent about the slogan.   

And it’s interesting that he was a friend of Stokely Carmichael who popularized that slogan, but he had good relationships with – I think that if Malcolm X had lived, he and King would have sat down and discussed their differences and that might have lessened the negative impact, because the white backlash against black militancy was a large part of the Southern strategy.  And so I think that that period of going in – the late ’60s and going into the ’70s when black power, black militancy was at its highest point was for King troubling because a lot of that involved attacks on nonviolence, attacks on him.  And so it divided the black community at just the time when you needed to have some unity. 

But I think looking back, what I would suggest is that every movement produces that sense of a new sense of identity, and the black struggle of the 1960s did that for black people.  It gave us a new sense of identity and that was the positive aspect of it.  But of course, there was along with that a sense of despair that change wasn’t coming fast enough, that – the resentments of the past.   

So you still see that today.  You see a sense of – a new sense of identity coming out of all of these social struggles.  And I guess what I would suggest is that there’s always two sides of the coin, that each group that goes through that sense of liberation also faces a backlash from people who are made uncomfortable by people who were once oppressed, people who were once denigrated can now have power.  Now we have a black person representing Georgia too, and you have a Jewish person, you have a gay person running for president and being taken seriously.  

So all of these are positive, but they’re also producing a reaction of people who are saying change is coming too fast; I’m losing my privileges.  And that resentment fuels Trumpism.  So that’s where we are as a society. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.     

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I’m now going to go to a question that was submitted in writing via the chat field, and this is from Beatriz Bulla from the Brazilian newspaper O Estado in Sao Paolo.   

Her question is: “Professor, you mentioned that last year we had the most important social activism since the 1960s in the U.S.  Do you believe it is a result of these movements and specifically the call for equality that can lead us to understand the election results in Georgia and having the first black vice president in the White House?” 

MR CARSON:  Yes, I think that’s the general point I would – I’d like to make is that I see what has happened – what happened last year as very, very positive.  And I think it’s the culmination of a series of movements since the 1960s: environmental movements, movements for gay rights, movements that kind of represent the discontent of young people over gun violence.  That drew a million people to Washington, that protest.   

So you’re seeing this expression of people who are discontented with the way things are, want to see change, want to end oppression, want to end destruction of the environment, they’re – and they want change.  And I think that’s the challenge to Joe Biden, is that that’s what elected him.  It wasn’t a shift among conservative whites; it was the explosion of energy among young people.  And they didn’t do this because they’re Democrats; they did it because they’re trying to change the world for the better.  So the question for Joe Biden is – I think the Democratic Party for decades has followed the strategy of trying to get back what they call the Reagan Democrats, the people who left the Democratic Party, went over to the Republicans.   

But there’s another strategy, and that is you mobilize these voters who represent change.  Now, who are you going – as president, who are you going to try to – try most – are you going to try to keep that coalition together that elected you or are you going to persist in saying okay, let’s try to reach out to the Trumpsters and try to bring them back?  I would strongly argue that the former strategy is a much more – much wiser strategy, much more likely to produce results.  And I don’t think you can always do the – both of them at the same time, so that’s going to be the dilemma of Joe Biden. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I have one more question in the chat box, and then we’ll return to live questions.  I see a couple more hands raised.  This question is from Rafig Gurbanzade of CIBC (ph) Azerbaijan.   

I will read the question exactly as it’s written:  “In light of the legacy of Martin Luther King, how are his views reverberating among right-wing groups, especially among those who attacked the Capitol?” 

MR CARSON:  Well, not very much.  I would think that if he were still around he would be a target.  I mean, at the root of Martin Luther King’s philosophy, though, was the notion of nonviolence.  And his notion of nonviolence was that you always try to turn the person who is opposing you into a friend.  You try to – and I think that most social movements try to do that.  They try to say two things:  I want change.  I demand change because the existing policies are destructive, oppressive, so I want change.  But I’m not going to focus my attention on hating the person who is the cause of the oppression because that – you want to change that person’s perspective, and that’s what nonviolence is.  

Nonviolence also is the use of the vote.  I mean, democracy, properly understood, is an expression of nonviolence.  It’s saying that I want change, but I want to do it peacefully, and when that’s possible.  But I think that what’s so disturbing about the takeover of the Capitol is that it was a response to democracy.  It was saying I refuse to accept the democratic process.   

And I think that’s what’s disturbing to me – most disturbing – about Donald Trump, is that this is not new.  Before, when he was running against Hillary Clinton back in 2016, he said before the election when he was asked directly, “Will you accept the election result?” and he refused to say yes.  That should have eliminated him from being a candidate.  That should be the – in a democratic system, if you refused or even suggest that you will not accept the election result, that should eliminate you from being part of that system. 

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Returning to live questions, we have a hand raised from Nikhila Natarajan of the Indo Asian News Service in India.  Nikila, we will now unmute you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, Professor.  I’m sorry, I’m not putting on my video because I’m sitting near a window and it’s like – looks really dark.   

So my question really is about:  What does Kamala Harris mean in this moment?  I know she has herself talked so much about it.  She was actually born during the civil rights protests.  She has framed that legacy.  But for scholars like you, what does her candidacy mean?  What does her ascension to power mean?  Thank you.  

MR CARSON:  I think it’s an important aspect of what has happened in the last year.  I mean, first of all, having a female vice president is a very important step in making America more democratic, more egalitarian.  I knew her father, who was a colleague of mine at Stanford.  And I think that to me, her ability to achieve political success is an expression of the changes that have occurred in terms of the – people think of the ’60s as a time of civil rights change.  But it was also a time of immigration reform, taking the racist elements out of the American immigration system that had always been there since the beginning of the republic of who could be – who could become an American.  And the Immigration Act to me was just as important in terms of shaping modern America as perhaps the Civil Rights Act because it changed the demographics of the country. 

And so I think that what we see with her election is that now you have at least the possibility for a – for democracy to work in ways that will result in a more humane society.  She has risen quite rapidly in the American political system.  And why not?  She’s bright.  She’s shown her competence at every level.  And I think that that’s going – that bodes well for the future.   

I – when I look at the last election, I see two things.  I see, at the top level, Joe Biden, who’s kind of a traditional Democratic politician who’s been around for many, many years.  But I also see some of my former students becoming involved in the political system, people like Cory Booker and Susan Rice and others who have been elected to office.  And that to me is the most hopeful sign because these people have grown up in a changing America.  They don’t feel threatened by change.  They don’t feel threatened as some older Americans might feel that things are changing too fast, and in fact, many of them think it’s changing too slow.  And I think that that’s what gives me hope that the Democratic Party, and I think eventually the Republican Party, will recognize and accept the changes, and not be forces of resistance but be voices of change.   

And it’s – I think that as I travel around the world, these factors that are – make this both a season a hope and a season of worry and despair – is something that’s happening throughout the world.  I feel the same as I travel in India or travel in Zimbabwe or in Brazil.  All of these countries are facing similar kinds of challenges, and I just mention those because I noticed that some of the questions are coming from people from those places.   

And so I think that that combination of an upsurge of liberation, people desiring to exercise political power and participate in the political system, and to have their rights respected and to produce political leaders who feel that they are servants of the people rather than dictators – that’s something – that’s a challenge that many countries are facing.  How do you build a political system that respects the rights of women, that allows a free vote, that allows people who are not of one ethnicity to participate equally?  That’s something that is a global issue and I think King recognized that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why his ideas have such relevance in so many countries.   

So that’s where we are.  It’s a – to me, it’s a hopeful time. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Professor. 

MODERATOR:  Okay.  I see – Pearl, you still have your hand raised, so I’ll come back to you for a follow-up question. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  So my question is I wonder if you can help us understand an element perhaps beyond the oppression and so on that kind of was the root issues in the Civil Rights Movement, but we’re all mostly journalists here today and in the writing in the media about people of African heritage sometimes has a negative connotation or negative way that people of African heritage are described by media, by institutions, and by people in general.  Is there – was there at any time during the – early times of the Civil Rights Movement, any time now recently, were there efforts to dispel, to change public’s – the way people of African heritage are described, or certain words and language that is – that are used as descriptors to being lesser-than?  Are there any efforts within the movement to kind of begin to change, educate, and change that kind of narrative?  Particularly also in the media we see it a lot amongst journalists as we write and so on.  I just wondered, is there any element of changing that to a more positive, particularly dispelling the negative way people of African heritage are understood or perceived?  Thank you. 

MR CARSON:  I would say yes, quite a bit.  Again, when I go back to King’s last book, “Where Do We Go From Here,” he gets into that discussion of how the English language, for example, has so many connotations of just the word “black” as negative, and how any kind of liberation struggle is also a struggle about culture, about language, about how part of black pride was expressed early in the century of just simply capitalizing the word “Negro,” getting rid of the N-word, and saying that that’s not acceptable.  And you see that with the women’s movement.  You see that with any movement that is about liberation is also about changing attitudes, about changing the culture.  And I think that’s what makes it so threatening.   

Part of Trump’s appeal was that he wasn’t politically correct.  And I think that for many people, that drive – which they call it “politically correct,” “political correctness,” but I would just call it simple sensitivity to – people like to be identified, like to have control over the way they’re identified in public.  And no group ever will accept terms and terminology and a kind of language that destroys their sense of pride and makes them feel excluded and powerless. 

So that struggle, yes, that’s been going on.  That was an element of the entire struggle for civil rights, from its inception.  It was a struggle about culture.  It was a struggle about who determines how I am described and labeled in this society.  That’s why writers, people like DeBois and James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, that was always part of their message, was we want to speak for ourselves, we want to use our own language, we want to write our own history.  That’s why I am a historian, is that I grew up reading a history of America written by white people, and now we have a history of America that is more balanced and takes into account the perspectives of the slave as well as the slave master.   

And that’s what’s happening right now, in the sense of here I am speaking about American society.  Fifty years ago I would not be speaking to the foreign press.  That’s part of the change, is that you have a generation of black Americans who speak for themselves and are able to be heard, and able to have a platform, and able to be broadcasters, and able to be presidents.  That was the importance of the election of Obama, was that now you could imagine what it was like to have a black president.  And that produced the reaction of Trump.  I think without the election of Obama in 2008, there would be no Trump in 2016.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I’d like to call on Alex from Turan News Agency, Azerbaijan.  Alex? 

QUESTION:  Yes, can you hear me? 

MODERATOR:  Yes, we can. 

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you, Jen.  Great to see you.  And Professor, thank you so much for making yourself available this afternoon.  I’m Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan.  MLK had a lofty but much-longed-for dream, right.  You’ve made it perfectly clear that protecting civil rights in a country include the right to vote, equality in public places, but also freedom of press, speech, et cetera.  Echoing my colleagues’ questions earlier, I wonder if you could give us a short list of current examples of key civil rights issues that are alive and the most challenging, in your opinion – both at home, and also perhaps internationally, given our audiences.  Thank you so much. 

MR CARSON:  I think that the – probably the primary global – there’s a lot of global issues.  I mean, obviously the climate issue.  But in terms of social issues, what seems to be a concern around the world is:  What do we do about migration?  In an earlier century, the United States was very open to European migration.  That made American industrialization possible.  The Italians and the Eastern Europeans who came in by the millions into the United States during the 19th century did not have to go and get a visa.  And in fact, the need to get a visa was the result of reaction against European immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  So during the 1920s, that changed. 

Now, we live in a very interconnected world.  I can look at the area around me, Silicon Valley.  Silicon Valley would not exist without extensive immigration.  The European community would not exist without extensive immigration.  So the rich countries in the world have recognized that and respond to that by saying, “But we want – we want to select who comes in.  We do not want poor people coming in.  We want skilled people to come in.”  And so I think that that issue is probably the issue of the 21st century – how are we going to resolve that – because you can’t stop migration.  If someone is desperate, they will do practically anything to get to a more hospitable place.  My grandparents, to get out of the South in the early 20th century – if there had been a national border at the edges of the South, they would have crossed it to get to Detroit and Pittsburgh and New York, regardless of the law, regardless of the dangers.  They would have – they would have crossed that border. 

And when I think about just how here we are in the southwest of the United States, and people are closer than they were then.  So I think that how people resolve this issue and begin to develop a humane policy about poverty – precisely the issues that King was talking about during his time.  He said there are three evils in the world: racism, war, poverty.  And all of that is mixed up in the issue of immigration.   

What causes people to immigrate?  What caused millions of people to leave Syria?  All of these issues.  And I think that was another one of his insights.  He was saying that all of these are interrelated because the world is interrelated.  And how we respond to that, I think, will say a lot about whether the 21st century is going to be peaceful or – as I said, it’s either chaos or community.  Either the world will be a community or there’ll be a lot of chaos in it, and we’ve seen signs of both. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Professor.  I think we have time for one more question, and this has been submitted in the chat box from Masako Shimizu of Kyodo News of Japan.  Her question is:  “I believe that it is essential to know Dr. King’s legacy in order to understand the U.S. as a foreign correspondent, especially for someone like me from a country of not really mixed races.  I wonder what Dr. King would say to see this deeply divided U.S. country.”  

MR CARSON:  Well, that’s what I always ask myself as editor of his papers:  What would Martin Luther King say?  What would he think about this time period?  And I think that’s what I started with in this news conference.   

I think that he would see reasons for hopes and reason for worry.  I think that America, this country, has narrowly avoided what he would call chaos.  Now, we had a relatively close election.  We have a – Americans, white Americans, have for many years – many white Americans have resisted change in a lot different areas.  But the whole coming out of the protests last summer is that that wasn’t black people by themselves demanding the end of police brutality and police killings of black people.  It was predominantly and on a national level a non-white movement. 

So how do you put these two things together:  the fact that a majority of white voters in the United States have never voted for the more liberal candidate in any election since 1964, and the fact that we’ve had a black president and we will have a black senator from Georgia?  How do you put these two things together?  How do you how do you make sense of the obvious fact that 77 million Americans decided to vote for a candidate who said on many occasions I will not necessarily accept the outcome of an election?  And we find ourselves, at least some, surprised that he really meant what he said back in 19 – in 2016 when he was running for office.   

So it’s troubling, but so you combine that hope with despair.  That’s what King did during his lifetime, is he combined hope with despair and said the only way of getting out of this dilemma is through an acceptance of non-violence, which is at its basis is – democracy at its best is non-violent.  Democracy is at best a decision of political leaders to accept the fact that they are servants of the people.  They are servants of the majority of the people who put them in office, and actually the majority of the people, because you – if you are in office, you have to represent even the people who didn’t vote for you. 

So how do we get to that stage?  I think from the very beginning, all the great leaders of America have recognized how fragile democracy is; it is not the natural condition of mankind.  Autocracy, domination is the natural condition of humanity; that we have to struggle to achieve something different than that.  And so that’s where we are, and we’re fortunate to have people like Gandhi and King and others who are pointing the way to saying there is this alternative.  But it’s one that takes a lot of courage to rely on.  It’s much – it’s much easier, if you are worried about the political future, to be in a dominant position and be able to command what you want.  It’s much more difficult to say, “I need to persuade in order to get what I want.” 

MODERATOR:  Well, with that, I think we’ve come to the end of our time.  As a reminder, everyone, the transcript and video of this briefing will be posted on our website within the next 24 hours.  I want to extend our thanks on behalf of the Washington Foreign Press Center to Professor Carson for this really critical and timely perspective.  And Professor, if you’d like to offer any final words. 

MR CARSON:  I think I’ve said enough.  (Laughter.)  


MR CARSON:  But I have a feeling that there’ll be a few more questions in the next couple of days. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much again, Professor, and good afternoon. 

MR CARSON:  Good afternoon to you. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future